Part VII: Joseph Jebelli, PhD: A neuroscientist and writer
In preparation for his book The Quiet Mind, Joe Jebelli wore the DES beeper for 7 sampling days. Here's what we found....
Joe is a London-based neuroscientist and writer. He received his PhD in neuroscience from University College London and was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Washington, Seattle. His much-acclaimed first book, In Pursuit of Memory, was short-listed for the Royal Society Science Book Prize.
Joe is currently working on The Quiet Mind, which will include a chapter on mind wandering and DES. A news article about the book can be found here. As part of his background research for this book, he engaged in the seven DES sampling days that are displayed here.
Below are links to the interviews as they occurred.
Joe (like all DES participants) is not expected to be good at apprehending his experience on this first sampling day. In a nutshell, we shouldn't believe what Joe says on this day. That's why DES routinely discards first-day results....
In general—sampling day 1: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training (so that future sampling days can be more skillful) and description of experience. The aim of the first sampling interview (or the first several sampling interviews) is almost entirely iterative training. First-day sampling interviews appear to be inquiries into experience, but their fundamental aim is to facilitate discussions of how to do DES more skillfully. DES recognizes that participants on their first sampling day are not skillful, so DES routinely discards first-day descriptions.
With Joe in particular: This was a pretty typical first-day DES Interview. He collected 6 samples; we discussed 5 of them:
Sample 1.1 [2:42 into video]:[I was working on my computer at a coffee shop. I had just typed, "we" (the first word of a longer sentence).] At the moment of the beep, I see "we" and the blinking cursor (on the computer screen). Simultaneously, a feeling of frustration may also be present—there is something about the frustration that may be literally lower (in that it may be located or tied with the blank white space beneath "we") [However, CK is very skeptical about the "low"-ness, as Joe talked about this using causal inference]. Simultaneously, Iím hearing the hiss (of the espresso machine in the cafť) [CK is very skeptical about whether this was actually directly present, as Joe spoke about the hiss only at the very end of the interview without talking about it prior. RTH is no more skeptical than usual because sensory awareness is often initially dismissed as being irrelevant].
Sample 1.2 [12:21 into video]: [I was still working on my computer in the coffee shop. I was writing about circadian rhythms, and had just typed, "suprachiasmatic nucleus."] At the moment of the beep, I was wondering if this ("suprachiasmatic nucleus") was too academic [this appeared to be a cognitive-y/analytical process that did not involve words, images, inner or external speech, and so on]. Simultaneously, I innerly see "jargony" and "dense" (those exact words) quickly alternating on a white page above and to the right (of my computer screen) [that is: "jargony" and "dense" quickly trade places on the white page; at the moment of the beep, I canít tell which word is present because of the quick pace of the alternation. RTH was skeptical of the alternation—it sounded to him like a reasonable post hoc explanation rather than a description of an apprehended phenomenon]—only a single word is present on the white page, and the word is printed in the exact same ink color (black), font, and size (as "suprachiasmatic nucleus"). As part of this inner seeing, there may be a sense that this experience is somehow separate from me [Joe only described this sense of separate-ness when contrasting his experience in 1.2 in describing 1.3; it was unclear whether this was directly apprehended at the moment]. Simultaneously (but less prominent than either the wondering or the inner seeing of "jargony"/"dense"), I see "suprachiasmatic nucleus" (on the computer screen) [CK and think this was not directly apprehended and emerged only as the result of Joeís presupposition that he must be apprehending what his eyeballs are aimed at].
Sample 1.3 [30:37 into video]: 1.3 Ė [Joe was at home sitting at his desk looking at his cat, who was lying down next to his computer. His cat is a spotted tabby cat. Joe was staring at a round brown spot on his catís belly.] At the moment of the beep, Joe was aware-of-bigger/noticed (the spot on his cat was) bigger [this was present without inner or external speech, words, or any other symbols, or it may have been a feature of the seeing itself without any separable thinking. RTH asked Joe to compare this to the wondering-of-too-academic in 1.2; Joe said these were in some ways experientially similar (in that there were no words involved), but were also somewhat experientially different (in that his awareness/noticing of bigger in 1.3 was not cognitive-y/analytical, but was instead approached something like a feeling or a visual noticing). RTH was skeptical because unsymbolized thinking is often initially confused with feeling or noticing.
Additionally, this awareness/noticing did not feel separate from himself as he had felt in his wondering in 1.2].
Sample 1.4 [43:43 into video]:[Joe was walking along a road and turned to look up to his left to look at the branches and leaves of a tree.] At the moment of the beep, Joe (80%) was drawn to green (of the leaves) [this was the most prominent thing in his experience]; Joe also saw the branches against the blueness (of the sky). At the same time, Joe (20%) felt calm/glad [two separate affective-y phenomena]. Joe felt calm as a bodily relaxation, and he felt mental-y glad [Joeís gladness at the moment of the beep was linked to the greenness of the leaves].
Sample 1.5 [53:58 into video]: [Iím still on my walk. I was thinking about whether I have time this weekend to rest or if I should work through the weekend to meet a deadline I have in a month. While worrying, Iím staring down at the pavement in front of me.] At the moment of the beep, I feel worried/anxious—a sensation of falling downwards and forward in my chest and stomach. This is a literal sensation of falling a moderate distance at a somewhat moderate pace [that is, it is not the case that this was falling from a tall building]. [It is possible that this is a single experience (a bodily feeling) or are two related-but-distinct experiences; we did not clarify this adequately in the interview].
Joe collected 5 samples, but because of time constraints we discussed only 3. Much of the interview involved discussions of the DES procedure: about the necessity of bracketing presuppositions (and how itís difficult, why it requires iterative training, about how presuppositions distort apprehending phenomena, etc.); about unsymbolized thinking (and why it is not readily discovered in other methods/approaches); about the problems with hypothesis-driven psychological research (e.g., the emphasis on explaining vs. observing)....
In general—sampling day 2: All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training and description of experience. This is the second sampling day, and participants are generally more skillful than they were on day 1, so day-2 descriptions are expected to reflect beeped experiences with somewhat more fidelity. All skill acquisition is gradual, so we expect to be clarifying some aspects of method and experience on this second day.
With Joe in particular: This was a pretty typical second-day DES Interview. We discussed:
Sample 2.1 [2:03 into video]: [I was standing at a bus stop in a crowd of people and I was thinking about the structure of one of the chapters in my book.] At the moment of the beep, I (50%) see bright cyan blue [of a passing car; as a fact of the universe, my eyes are tracking the car as it drives by, but that is not directly present to me]. Simultaneously, the (50%) words "you have to decide" are present [with an emphasis on have; this is the tail end of the longer, ongoing thought process about my bookís chapters]—I may be innerly speaking this or innerly hearing this [Joe originally said this was innerly heard, but after RTH talked about the difference between inner speaking and inner hearing, Joe was less certain about how it was present. These specific words are undeniably directly apprehended, but it is unclear whether it is most faithful to call this more (or exclusively) a hearing experience or a speaking experience (or somewhere in-between)].
Sample 2.2 [13:07 into video]: [I was on a bus. Outside the window was a busy crossroad. I was looking at a black cab.] At the moment of the beep, Iím thinking that my parents are getting old and I should visit them more often [a cognitive thinking that is present without words, images, etc.; in the interview, RTH called this a textbook example of the first recognition of unsymbolized thinking] and perhaps a simultaneous affective feeling of guilt [RTH took this as an elaboration after the fact]. Simultaneously, I dimly innerly see my motherís face (including her neck and hair)—I see her in-profile looking to the right. This seeing-of-my-momís-profile may be overlayed onto what I see out in the real world, and it may be blurry/hazy and possibly transparent [RTH took the overlaying and transparency as presuppositional] [RTH discussed with Joe about being wary of the role laws-of-physics may be playing in describing this experience. Just because Joe was able to see what seemed in the same direction as the profile of his mother does not mean the profile had to be transparent]. Simultaneously, I see bright orange [of the cabís Taxi light]—this is a noticing of both brightness and the orangeness.
Sample 2.3 [46:33 into video]: [Joe was riding the London Underground.] At the moment of the beep, Joe (70%) saw a small black mark (on a seat across from him). Joe focused on the blackness and shape of the mark. At the same time Joe (30%) innerly saw the word L I G H T in capital white letters in front of a plank of wood as if illuminated by a spotlight above the black mark [that is: itís as if "L I G H T" were a sign and the sign was seen alongside or above the mark].
Joe collected 6 samples; we skipped one at his request, and had time to discuss only 4 samples In a conversation following the sampling interview, we noticed that all of todayís samples involved some sort of particular focus on individual words. This was not merely thinking in words, it was thinking about the words themselves. The conversation focused on that observation. ...
In general—sampling day 3: This is the third sampling day, and participants are generally more skillful than they were on day 2, so day-3 descriptions are expected to reflect beeped experiences with somewhat more fidelity. All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training and description of experience. All skill acquisition is gradual, so we expect to be clarifying some aspects of method and experience on this third day.
Sample 3.1 [2:33 into video]: We skipped discussing this sample at Joe's request.
Sample 3.2 [2:45 into video]: [I was in a bookshop reading the first few pages of Where the Crawdads Sing. The beep occurred as I was staring at "rotted duff" (which was part of a longer sentence).] At the moment of the beep, (80%) the words "rotted duff" stuck out to me; I am surprised and confused (about "rotted duff")—somehow, the semantic strangeness (of "rotted duff") is directly present to me [Joe had difficulty in describing his experience, but was confident that his experience was centrally about confusion/strangeness (prompted by "rotted duff")]. Simultaneously, I (20%) innerly see a swamp—I innerly see a flat and open grassy plain with lots of water and a bird in the foreground. The swamp is in faint, toned-down colors [Joe described this as being almost in black-and-white, in that the colors are not well articulated] [there is no border in this seeing].
Sample 3.4 [23:27 into video]: [Joe had locked up his bike using Eva-stina's lock and was now crossing the street to enter the bank.] [Slightly before the beep, Joe had been (75%) innerly saying [the combination for the bike lock] "1-4-7; 1-4-7; 1-4-7." ] The beep occurred in perhaps the third repetition of the combination, and what had started out as an inner speaking has (perhaps) become an inner hearing of his own voice. Simultaneously, Joe (25%) innerly says in his own voice, "should I wear the beeper?" [He is questioning whether it would be appropriate to wear the beeper in the bank.]
Sample 3.3 [12:30 into video]: [I was sitting in my living room. I was on the phone with a travel agent ("Scott") planning an upcoming trip to South Africa. Scott had just said, "when would you like to go?"] to which, at the moment of the beep, I responded by saying aloud, "Go?" (as if questioning the word itself—an uneasy confusion about what "Go" meant) innerly seeing "Go" (capital G and lowercase o) in front of a plank of wood—the letters in "Go" are big and in black ink, the wood is a very dark brown; I innerly see the grain of the wood (but the grain is not very well-defined) [note that "Go" is in front of (not on) the plank of wood]; and I see the space around the wood is very dark [even though at the moment of the beep Joe is in a well-lighted room]. [See also 2.3 for a similar instance of Joe seeing a word in front of a plank of wood.] This inner seeing is very realistic, and is in front of and to the right (of my field of vision). The inner seeing is the most prominent thing in my experience. [On retrospection, Joe found this seeing or words floating above a plank very strange, but at the moment of the beep it was a simple matter-of-fact seeing.] Simultaneously, I either (a) feel a bodily sensation in my chest and stomach—this sensation is confusion/anxiety [that is: at the moment of the beep, there is a bodily sensation in my chest and stomach that is directly present to me, and when I have to describe it in the interview, I understand that this sensation is confusion/anxiety (likely prompted by Scott asking me when I would like to travel)]; or (b) feel confusion/anxiety (which includes a bodily sensation in my chest and stomach). [We were unable to distinguish whether (a) or (b) was a better way of describing this experience; RTH speculates that (a) is more likely.]
Sample 3.4 [36:27 into video]: Joe was still on the phone with the travel agent.] At the moment of the beep, Joe heard the travel agent say "in the bush" [a chunk of a longer sentence/conversation]. At the moment of the beep Joe was hearing only "in the bush," (although Joe understood the larger sentence) with some particular focus on "bush" [Joe was confident that the focus on "bush" was directly apprehended as being particularly salient in some way, but had difficulty in describing how it was apprehended. He possibly innerly saw something bush-y that was undefined, or he possibly had a wordless thought about bushes, but he was unsure what exactly about the bush-y thing was present to him at the moment.]
Sample 3.5 [45:19 into video]: [Joe was in the living room and his partner Olivia was standing in the doorway. Olivia was wearing a coat and a hoodie underneath: the coat was dark blue, and the hoodie (which Olivia had pulled over her head) was a light blue. Olivia was looking directly at Joe, staring intently at him with her bright blue eyes widened. Olivia was talking to Joe about different travel agents, and within that conversation she had said "Kent."] At the moment of the beep, Joe saw Olivia in the doorway—he saw how she stood and saw the different, contrasting shades of blue (of Oliviaís coat, hood, and eyes.) [Olivia standing in the doorway was the most salient characteristic of Joeís experience at the moment of this beep.] Simultaneously, "Kent" is present to Joe [in reality, Olivia had said Kent a second or two before the moment of the beep, and somehow the word "Kent" is "staying in" Joeís experience at the moment [Joe described this as being very similar to how "bush" stood out to him in 3.4]. Joeís experience is not of apprehending "Kent" as the result of the beep (e.g., Olivia was saying a lot of things and the beep happened to interrupt Joe hearing Olivia say "Kent"), nor is Joe hearing "Kent"].
Discussion after the last sample [51:41 into video]: We discussed: that Joe focused on particular words in nearly all of today's samples; the transparency that is at the heart of DES; the bracketing of presuppositions and confirmation bias; whether people's inner experience differs in different situations; brain states.
Joe collected six samples but elected to skip two of them. The samples discussed primarily involved inner seeing and sensory awareness. Sample 4.6 was another experience focused on a particular word (compare sampling day 3). ...
In general—sampling day 4: This is the fourth sampling day, and participants are generally more skillful than they were on day 3, so day-4 descriptions are expected to reflect beeped experiences with somewhat more fidelity. All DES interviews are some combination of iterative training and description of experience. All skill acquisition is gradual, so we expect to be clarifying some aspects of method and experience on this fourth day.
Sample 4.1 [2:20 into video]: [I was sitting on my sofa. I was watching the news on TV and was holding my phone in my left hand. I had just read an email about a financial settlement for the various problems of the house we are interested in buying, and Iím staring off in space thinking about how to reply—whether to accept the offer or walk away, etc.] At the moment of the beep, I innerly see the white side of the house meeting the concrete (part of the garden). That is: Iím innerly seeing a very small and specific part of the garden against the house.
Sample 4.2 [24:54 into video]: [I was still sitting on the sofa. I was petting one of my cats while looking at my bookshelf.] At the moment of the beep, I see bright redness (of various book spines within the entire bookshelf); Iím looking from red to red to red [that is: Iím scanning the bookshelf and my vision is jumping around from one red book spine to another]. At the same time (perhaps just a millisecond after seeing redness but still part of the same experiential moment caught in flight by the beep), I directly apprehend myself as zeroing-in on redness [there is reason to be skeptical of this meta-awareness aspect].
Sample 4.3 [35:26 into video]: [Joe was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher while listening to an audiobook.] At the moment of the beep, Joe saw the blue rabbit (on his sock) with a faint feeling of happiness/comfort [perhaps this faint feeling should be understood as being more a way of looking—Joe was happily seeing the rabbit]. He also heard the word "company" (from his audiobook) [nothing of the sentence nor the semantic meaning of "company" was directly apprehended].
Sample 4.4 [45:07 into video]: Skipped
Sample 4.5 [45:14 into video]: Skipped
Sample 4.6 [45:22 into video]: [Joe was walking down a street and entered a coffee shop. He saw his friend, Naz (who works at the coffee shop), who was smiling at Joe and was about to give Joe a fist-bump.] At the moment of the beep, Joe innerly spoke and heard himself whisper "story." [Only the word "story" was present; it was not part of a longer sentence. Simultaneously (and separate from the inner speaking/hearing), Joe was trying to make sense of what a story is—this was a musing about what constitutes a story in-general [that is: it was not aimed at whether any particular event is a story or not]. At the same time, Joe saw Naz.
Joe collected a total of six beeps, but elected to skip two beeps (5.5 and 5.6). The first sample was in inner seeing; the remaining three involved sensory awareness. At the end of the interview, there is a brief discussion of Joe's improvement at DES and the bracketing of presuppositions about the physical world....
Sample 5.1 [0:28 into video]: [I was in a coffee shop writing about the trees of Regentís Park. I cast my eyes upwards and began thinking about the trees of Regentís Park.] At the moment of the beep, I innerly see the entryway [the one I usually use] into Regentís Park—I see a road with the park on either side of it, and a series of trees going down alongside the road. The innerly-seen Regentís-Park-scene is in-color, still, and has no borders. [That is: my experience at the moment is of innerly seeing/visualizing something related to what Iím writing about.]
Sample 5.2 [5:00 into video]: [While walking down a street near my apartment, I notice to my left a small white gate that has a black, circular sign affixed to it; the sign presents the number 37 in gold.] At the moment of the beep, Iím focused on the number 37 (focused primarily on the number-ness, but how that was experienced, or its significance, were not present to me). Simultaneously (and a much somewhat smaller part of my experience), I notice the signís colors—the goldness of 37, the contrasting colors (perhaps the contrast of gold-on-black, perhaps gold-on-black-on-white, and/or perhaps black-on-white).
Sample 5.3 [13:47 into video]: [I was putting stuff in my fridge: I had apple juice in my right hand and some other things in my left hand, and I was trying to shove the juice into a space in the fridge.] At the moment of the beep, I see the arrangement (the staggered geometry/layering) of the shelves of the fridge and the light at the back of the fridge. [Although I am engaged in trying to fit the apple juice into the fridge, I am not looking for the apple juiceís space, nor am I only seeing the shelf where the juice goes.]
Sample 5.4 [21:33 into video]: [I was eating lunch while sitting on my sofa watching the news. Iíve aimed to take a bit of a piece of lettuce that was sticking out of the sandwich.] At the moment of the beep, Iím feeling the cold wetness of the lettuce (this is likely a single experience of cold-wetness, but itís also possible that these are two separate-but-interrelated sensations) and I hear the crunch of the lettuce.
Sample 5.5 [28:16 into video]: Skipped
Sample 5.6 [28:23 into video]: Skipped
Discussion after sampling [30:37 into video]: Is Joe getting better at DES? Bracketing the physical world.
Joe collected a total of six samples but elected to skip samples 6.3 and 6.6. At the end of sampling, there is a discussion about why people tend to avoid the personal in favor of the general or the theoretical, about shyness, and that organized psychology or neuroscience is designed to avoid the personal....
Sample 6.1 [0:57 into video]: [Iím filling out a form online for a cat sitter; I just got to a textbox about "special requests." Iím thinking about my apartmentís heating and thinking about keeping my catís warm.] At the moment of the beep, I innerly see my two cats in the corridor (of my flat). There is a small bit of light [perhaps moonlight] and a small bit of color ["nighttime color;" because it is dark, the colors—if they are present at all—are not prominent]. This is mostly (likely entirely) an inner seeing experience [there is no analytical thought process that is present to me at the moment].
Sample 6.2 [4:20 into video]:[I was in my flat, and I could hear what sounded like a loud leaf blower outside. I went over to the window to try and see what it was.] At the moment of the beep, Iím looking and hearing through (my neighborís) trees trying to find the leaf blower/source of the noise. [Looking out my window to the left], I see my neighborís garden, the trees that block their garden, and a few other houses—part of this seeing is that Iím looking for something beyond/through the trees searching for the leaf blower/source of the noise. Simultaneously, I hear the leaf blower—it is a very loud, all-encompassing sound [in that it is so loud that itís difficult for me to pinpoint where the sound is coming from].
Sample 6.3 [12:40 into video]: Skipped
Sample 6.4 [12:45 into video]: [I was walking down a very narrow street with my partner. She had just said, "this is charming" (in reference to the street).] At the moment of the beep, the word "charming" was present to me—Iím thinking about the word "charming." The word was "just there" as part of Joeís directly apprehended experience; it was present without being spoken, heard, or seen. [However, although the word "charming" was present, we could not clarify whether Joeís experience was centrally about the word itself, the meaning of the word, a blend of the two, or something else]. (Perhaps as part of the thinking-about-"charming," or as separate phenomena [we did not clarify this sufficiently]), Iím agreeing with my partnerĎs utterance about the charming-ness of the street)—Iím seeing the street and having a positive feeling towards the street [that is: Iím not innerly speaking or hearing my agreement; my agreement is wrapped-up in my positive seeing-of-the-street ].
Sample 6.5 [23:01 into video]: [I was looking at a watch on my laptop, trying to decide if I should buy the blue face or cream face version. On my computer screen was a zoomed-in view of both watch faces.] At the moment of the beep, I see the blue and cream of the watch faces—this is mostly (approximately 70%) about seeing the colors, although a small part of this (approximately 30%) is seeing the watches [that is, this experience is mostly about the color (of the watch faces), but to say that this is seeing only color (and that the watch-face-ness is not at all in my experience) is not faithful].
Sample 6.6 [27:10 into video]: Skipped
Discussion after sampling [27:25 into video]: Should we do more sampling? Bracketing presuppositions. What is avoided usually turns out to be the most interesting. Mistakenly applying characteristics of the physical world to inner experience. DES participants are shy about sensory awareness because it lies close to sexuality. Avoiding the personal.
This is Joeís last sampling day (at least of this round). He collected 5 samples but elected to skip sample 7.5. There was a discussion after sampling: Shall we put these videos online? Categorization of samples may miss the most interesting things. The "green meeting" in DES procedure. The "contemporaneous description" in DES procedure.
Sample 7.1 [1:14 into video]: [I was in a bookshop looking at a shelf of new hardback books. I was eavesdropping on a conversation between a customer and a bookstore employee going on behind me: the customer had asked, with a somewhat nervous/sad tone, about when a particular book he was in would be released.] At the moment of the beep, I (30%) hear the employee say, "the paperback is out." Simultaneously, Iím (70%) feeling worried—a physical, unpleasant, light-tickly sensation in a region between my chest and stomach, a shallow region inside the surface. [Joeís eyeballs were aimed at the bookshelf in front of him, but he likely was not seeing it at all. In the interview, Joe wondered whether he was blurrily seeing the bookshelf but ultimately decided that that was likely a presuppositional artifact of his retrospection].
Sample 7.2 [7:44 into video]:[I was standing at the entrance of a sandwich shop while my partner was paying for her sandwich. The cashier helping her had a lot of eyeshadow around her eyes.] At the moment of the beep, Iím looking at the cashierís eyes—her eyes are brown, are quite large (and are focused on my partner), and the outside of her eyes also curved upwards. [Note that Joeís experience was centrally about seeing the eyes and all of their characteristics; it was not the case that he was particularly interested in the eyeshadow color, etc. In the interview, Joe also thought that some of the described features of the eyes may have been the product of retrospection, but he wasnít sure exactly which parts].
Sample 7.3 [12:18 into video]: [Joe was walking home.] At the moment of the beep, Joe is wondering about whether selling cat food is a good business idea—a pushing, expansive cognitive-y experience in my mind [that is: there is no physical/bodily sensation of pushing, but there is a sense that the whether-selling-cat-food-is-a-good-business-idea wondering somehow has an active pushing/expanding-ness that is directly apprehended]. Joe also innerly sees a very blurry, indistinct mini city contained in a transparent sphere-like area (more or less like a small city in a snow globe); he innerly sees the city-in-a-sphere from a "birdís eye" perspective looking down at the city. [All aspects of Joeís experience were apparently a part of his wondering-whether-selling-cat-food-is-a-good-business-idea process.]
Sample 7.4 [24:53 into video]: [Joe was about to open the door to his apartment. The beep occurred as Joe was looking down at the salmon-pink carpet leading up to his apartment door.] At the moment of the beep, Joe sees a hole (in the carpet), an apple-sized hole that has gray streaking in the center of it and has a faded gray-and-white shredded edge.
Sample 7.5 [29:30 into video]: Skipped
Discussion after sampling [29:45 into video]: Shall we put these videos online? Categorization of samples may miss the most interesting things. The "green meeting" in DES procedure. The "contemporaneous description" in DES procedure.